July 11, 2012
A few years ago, the political career of Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr. was soaring.
His appeal had long since crossed race and class lines — a Barack Obama before anyone heard of Barack Obama — and he seemed destined for a political future that could reach higher and wider than that of his father, the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate whose name he shared.
But Mr. Jackson’s prospects have tumbled precipitously since the end of 2008. Most recently, Mr. Jackson, 47, has been absent from Congress since June 10, and in the last few weeks his office has released three brief statements, which seemed to set off as many questions as they answered. The latest, on Wednesday night, said that he was receiving “intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder” and is expected to recover.
Last week, his office had said he had grappled with “certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time” — a more dire, if mysterious, assessment than its initial explanation, a week before, that he was dealing with exhaustion.
The disclosures, absent details, have set off waves of speculation here and in Washington about the precise nature of Mr. Jackson’s ailment, his location and, four months before his presumed re-election to Congress, his political future. It has left his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who this week is hosting his annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition national conference about how to combat poverty and unemployment, fending off relentless questions about his eldest son.
Less than four years ago, Representative Jackson was eyeing the Senate seat that Mr. Obama would soon give up to go to the White House. A poll and local editorials backed him, and Mr. Jackson told everyone who would listen why he should get the seat, distributing talking points and templates for letters of support and, on occasion, carrying a three-ring binder that made his case.
The Senate was only one option. By then, he was regularly mentioned as a future mayor of Chicago — one of the few figures thought of as legitimate competition to Richard M. Daley, a fellow Democrat who ran the city for decades, his father before him. There was no rush, though, the thinking went: Mr. Jackson was young and had plenty of time.
Now, Mr. Jackson’s disappearance is only the latest in a series of blows to his image over the last four years, with many here, even allies, having begun alluding to his ascent in the past tense.
The events — including a continuing House ethics investigation into claims that a longtime supporter and friend offered sizable campaign contributions to Rod R. Blagojevich, then the governor, if he would appoint Mr. Jackson to the Senate seat being vacated by Mr. Obama — have called into question the Jackson family narrative that some Chicagoans had come to believe: that the workhorse son with the privileged education and crossover appeal might surpass the prominence of the father, who twice ran for president but was best known for mobilizing opinion outside establishment circles.
“He’s frozen,” Don Rose, a longtime Chicago political consultant, said of the younger Mr. Jackson, who is still widely referred to here as Junior. “He had a high potential. But the ability to go beyond Congress — to be mayor, to be senator — is pretty well dead, unless something changes and the clouds are removed.”
His Father’s Son
Father and son have always been close, in life and in politics, yet their personas are, in many ways, starkly different.
With education at St. Albans, the elite Washington school, a master’s degree in theology and a law degree, not to mention a nod as People magazine’s “Sexiest Politician” in 1997, the younger Mr. Jackson’s appeal crossed races.
If his father was a passionate speaker, often moving around the world from one civil-rights-related cause to another, the younger, scholarly Mr. Jackson was a more traditional student of political strategy and statistics, who focused intently on his district and built political strength, in part by backing candidates for the Illinois Legislature and the City Council in Chicago.
“Around here, Reverend Jackson is seen as a national figure, and someone who can mobilize opinion on the South Side, but — to use a Chicago word — he’s not seen as someone with a lot of clout,” said Dick Simpson, a political scientist and former alderman. “Congressman Jackson has been building a case, trying to build a coalition.”
Mr. Jackson’s office declined to comment for this article, and his father declined requests to be interviewed as well.
Until this spring, Representative Jackson made a point of rarely missing votes in Congress, nearly to the point of obsession, said an associate who recalled him literally sprinting to cast a vote before it drew to a close.
In Congress, he was credited with securing nearly a billion dollars for projects in his district; pressing for constitutional amendments ensuring rights like voting, health care and housing; and this spring urging an increase in the minimum wage.
“One of the things I teased him about was that they always say his father is a tree shaker, not a jelly maker,” said Delmarie Cobb, a Chicago consultant and communications director in Mr. Jackson’s first Congressional race, referring to a phrase the senior Mr. Jackson had been quoted as using about himself.
“The idea now was, you need to roll up your sleeves and be a jelly maker,” Ms. Cobb said of the congressman, recalling suggestions that he could be “Jesse Plus — everything Jesse has, plus you’ll be a hard worker.”
Still, in his earliest political years, the son benefited significantly from his connection to his famous father.
After working as a national field organizer for Rainbow PUSH, Mr. Jackson was only 30 and had never held political office in 1995 when he sought a Congressional seat among a competitive field with older, more seasoned opponents, including Emil Jones Jr., a product of Chicago’s political machine and the Democrats’ leader in the State Senate. Campaign buttons in that first race, offering a not-so-subtle reminder of the father-son link, read: “A new generation.”
In that first race, the elder Mr. Jackson could be seen out on the city’s South Side, in his son’s would-be Congressional district, shaking hands, signing autographs and proudly urging voters to remember his son at the ballot box. In 1988, the younger Mr. Jackson introduced his father, at the end of a second presidential bid, at the Democratic National Convention as “a man who fights against the odds, who lives the odds, our dad, Jesse Jackson.”
Yet, the younger Mr. Jackson’s former advisers said he always realized that the link carried benefits and complications, saying at times, “I’m my father’s son, and there are some things I get credit for and shouldn’t, and there are some things I get blamed for and shouldn’t.”
The Second Congressional District of Illinois includes parts of the predominantly black South Side, but also southern suburbs and a sizable population that was white or Hispanic and had grown weary of politicians after Mel Reynolds, Mr. Jackson’s predecessor who resigned after being convicted of having sex with a teenage girl. So Mr. Jackson reached for a wide audience. Aides recall him giving some campaign speeches in English and then in Spanish, drawing note from Latino voters.
“You saw the same thing in him that you would see in Barack Obama,” said Hermene D. Hartman, the publisher of N’Digo magazine who assisted on the 1995 campaign. “It was the same newness, freshness, difference, change. That’s very politically sexy. He was the new wave.”
That wave, said Representative Danny K. Davis, a fellow Democrat here, seemed limitless. “He was smart, charismatic, articulate, pedigreed,” Mr. Davis said. “And so, there was nothing that could stand in the way, quite frankly, of this being a natural for higher office.”
By the end of 2008, though, Representative Jackson suddenly found himself in the middle of a political storm. After Mr. Obama won the presidential election, the appointment of a successor to the Senate was left to Governor Blagojevich, who is now in federal prison after being convicted of trying to trade the appointment for something of value.
The accusations against Mr. Blagojevich included claims that he discussed sizable campaign donations from Raghuveer Nayak, a longtime supporter and friend of Mr. Jackson and his family, in exchange for appointing Mr. Jackson. Mr. Jackson came to be known as Senate Candidate No. 5 in the criminal complaint against Mr. Blagojevich — a complaint that Mr. Jackson and his father discussed in a phone call on the day of the arrest, documents show, even conferencing in Mr. Nayak at one point.
Mr. Jackson, who had openly sought the Senate job, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of deal-making or payoff plans and has not been charged in the case. If Mr. Nayak was offering millions of dollars to appoint Mr. Jackson, Mr. Jackson knew nothing about it, he has said. Still, the House ethics inquiry continues.
Then came revelations of a relationship with a woman in Washington, and Mr. Jackson’s wife, Sandi, an alderman on the Chicago City Council, acknowledged a rough period in their marriage.
Since Mr. Jackson disappeared from public view last month, Ms. Jackson has said little, telling a scrum of reporters not long ago, “I think it’s important to say that I love my husband very much, that’s the first thing.” She added, “The second thing is as a wife, my primary concern is that of my children — just want to make sure that they’re taken care of and provided for.”
That has left much to speculation — endless parsing of the brief, official words released by Mr. Jackson’s office and an inconclusive rehashing of his medical history, including a weight-loss surgery in 2004 after a 100-pound weight gain left Mr. Jackson at 310 pounds, according to The Hill, and a wrenched back in 2005 that required pain medication, according to Chicago magazine.
In the latest statement from Mr. Jackson’s office, on Wednesday, his aides took care to note that Mr. Jackson was not being treated for alcohol or substance abuse — some among the many rumors floating about. The statement did not disclose where Mr. Jackson is being treated or the name of his doctor, citing a need to protect his privacy.
“He is responding positively to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery,” the statement said. It offered no details of Mr. Jackson’s mood disorder, a category of mental illnesses that includes major depressive and bipolar disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Before the 2007 election for mayor of Chicago, Mr. Jackson gave serious consideration to running, several former advisers said. While Mayor Richard M. Daley was viewed as so unbeatable that many referred to him as “Mayor for Life,” Mr. Jackson was seen as one of the few people who might be able to defeat him.
Strategy meetings were called. So were large donors. But then Mr. Jackson decided not to pursue it that year, and by 2011, when Mr. Daley retired, few people even brought up Mr. Jackson’s name.
For now, he seems in control of his Congressional seat, as long as he wants it. After running one of his most energetic, intense campaigns in years, Mr. Jackson in March easily held off a serious Democratic primary challenge from Debbie Halvorson, who had served in Congress, and has been widely expected to win the general election in the strongly Democratic district. His supporters say that his political future remains bright and that the clouds of recent years will ultimately amount, in Ms. Hartman’s words, to “a hiccup.” Still, questions are looming.
“We need to keep him and his family in our thoughts and prayers,” Brian Woodworth, Mr. Jackson’s little-known Republican opponent, said last week. “But there’s a policy issue here as well, and that’s that there needs to be more information for the voters. There’s too much there that says, what’s going on?”
At the Rainbow PUSH conference at a downtown hotel on Wednesday afternoon, a pack of reporters pursued the elder Mr. Jackson, seeking insights about his son’s medical state. Mr. Jackson, 70, never known to avoid the television cameras, ignored them, disappearing behind a curtain. Exiting through a back kitchen area, past racks of dirty dishes, he answered no questions. “No, no,” he said before climbing into a service elevator.
Jesse Jackson Jr. was born on March 11th, 1965 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Jackson_Jr
March 11th, 1965
3 + 11 +1+9+6+5 = 35 = his life lesson = Jesse Jackson Jr. Guarded. Weary. This can’t continue.
March 11th, 1965
3 + 11 +2+0+1+2 = 19 = his personal year (from March 11th, 2012 to March 10th, 2013) = Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
19 year + 7 (July) = 26 = his personal month (from July 11th, 2012 to August 10th, 2012) = In the news. Making headlines. The media. Spokesperson.
26 month + 12 (12th of the month on Thursday July 12th, 2012) = 38 = his personal day = “Mood disorder.”
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